Dear TEE Community,

I was in my 20s before I learned to apologize. My family taught me many important and wonderful things as I was growing up but apologizing was not one of them. I think part of it was generational and part of it a certain kind of perfectionism, but it would never have occurred to my parents to offer an apology to one of their children. Perhaps they did say they were sorry to others in private conversations, but because I didn’t have a model of apologizing I only thought of it as the thing you were told to do whether you were actually sorry or not.

Life, as it always does, provided experiences which taught me how crucial it was to learn to apologize. More importantly, therapy and friends helped me see that, contrary to the implicit message I learned growing up, making a mistake is not the same as being a mistake. In fact, the more I could acknowledge my imperfections, the more honest and authentic my relationships became.

This Saturday night we begin the official High Holiday cycle with an observance called “S’lichot,” which can be translated as “apologies.” Apologies and the lessons they impart are central to the task of this season. Being able to acknowledge our own flaws allows us to open our hearts to those of others. Often the first person to whom we owe an apology is ourself for impossible expectations or neglect we would never want to impose on someone we love.

Each year, I am amazed that our Jewish tradition devotes such an extended period of time to this task of self knowledge and self care. I find both assurance and inspiration in its acknowledgement that we do not have to be perfect to be good. There is a profound optimism in practices which encourage us to heal the harms which are an inevitable part of human relationships and to reflect on our unique purpose on earth.

Our S’lichot gathering this year will combine Havdalah (the ceremony marking the transition from Shabbat to the regular week) with study about the spiritual path of the coming holidays and a short ceremony honoring our Torah scrolls as we dress them in special High Holiday garments. I hope you will join us as we explore and celebrate our ability to apologize and, in so doing, live a more meaningful life.

Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano,

Rabbi Drorah Setel

PS I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention the events that have engaged our city for the past week. The death of Daniel Prude was a heartbreaking event for all of us. Some of our members discussed it with me following our Shabbat services last week and I know we will continue to reflect on the issues it has raised for some time to come. Members of the Elul class have also been considering what a Jewish response to our region’s racism might be. As a member of the city’s Police Accountability Board I have had many conversations on policing this week and would be happy to discuss any information with you that I can. I would also be interested to hear your thoughts on the topic if you would like to share them. I know we all seek the safety and welfare of our region and its citizens.